Within five minutes, I concluded that no one over the age of 4 could possibly withstand more than three minutes of those hideous high-pitched rodent voices without suffering permanent damage—both to hearing and brain cells. After being subjected to the full 80-odd minutes, I was ready to take a hostage just to get the hell out of that theater. In the interest of full disclosure, I confess to having bailed during the big production number at the end. I simply couldn’t take any more, so if the monkey stampede I was hoping for showed up at the last minute and trampled our heroes into chipmunk chutney, I missed it.
When this late 1950s novelty item was dusted off in movie form in 2007, it never even briefly occurred to me that I’d be subjected to a third film. It was too cheap, too lame, too chintzy and too cheesy for me to believe that it could possibly catch on with even the most undiscerning viewer. Well, I overrated the demands of those viewers. Apparently, there continues to be a market for virtually plotless, tepid slapstick involving squeaky-voiced computer-animated chipmunks interacting with hapless human beings for nearly 90 minutes. That these things also include eardrum-piercing musical numbers ought to make them come with some kind of government health warning. Frankly, I think this needs to be looked into.
What most surprises me is how much lazier and dumber this entry is than the first one. (I managed to fob the second one off on co-critic Justin Souther, and so cannot speak to its quality, but I have grave suspicions.) The first at least had something vaguely resembling a plot. This one, however, has somethingly barely resembling a situation: The chipmunks and the chipettes—along with Dave (Jason Lee) and regular villain Ian (David Cross)—wind up on a tropical island a la Mr. Gilligan and company. They meet a very peculiar fellow refugee named Zoe (played by some SNL alum named Jenny Slate) and have “adventures.” Then there’s an active volcano. If you can’t fill in the rest, there’s a chance you’ll find this whole thing fresh.
This is quite honestly the most painful experience I’ve had in a theater all year—and that’s saying something. I spent the whole film just wanting it to stop. I could occasionally distract myself by wondering just how uncomfortable David Cross must have been spending the entire film in a pelican costume. And some time could be spent trying to remember when Jason Lee did something other than scream, “Alvin!” every few minutes. It still wasn’t enough.
There are those, of course, who will launch into the cry that this sort of thing is great fun for the kids. I disagree. I think children deserve something more than this kind of cheapjack rubbish. I haven’t seen The Muppets, but I’m reasonably sure it’s better. I have seen Hugo and I know it’s better—and, no, I don’t think it’s too adult to appeal to children. I’m not wild about The Adventures of Tintin, but it’s certainly much better than this. Actually, most things are. Rated G.